Last Saturday I had several people come into the store looking for some really unique spirits? I was taken aback by all of the requests; but after my third customer I had figured it out. The Wall Street Journal had published an article that day called ‘The Manhattan Project’. The article was a boozy look at one of the great classic American cocktails that has single handedly stood the test of time unlike many concoctions that change with every new season!
So what was it everyone was looking for on Saturday? Whiskey of course, along with vermouth, bitters and a boatload of other obscure spirits. But let’s look at the whiskey first.
Bourbon or Rye?
The answer is really up to you. Bourbon is generally sweeter with notes of vanilla and corn. Buffalo Trace (45% ABV, $36.99 for a 1.75 Liter) is always a staple at my house. It is good sippin’ and mixing whiskey. A wheated bourbon like Makers Mark (45% ABV, $24.99) will produce a drink which slips down all too easily. Wheated bourbons tend to be softer and more rounded. But for a classic Manhattan you should use rye. Rye has a more notable spiciness and gives the drink rich texture and flavor. Rye won’t hurt your wallet either. Two excellent versions are Riverboat Unfiltered Rye (46% ABV, $22.99) which is made in southern Indiana at the MGP distillery. It is dirty brown in color (having not being filtered), but don’t let that put you off. Bold and feisty, it has flavors of pepper, black tea, dried fruit and an oaky finish. The other rye is Willett Single Barrel, Barrel Proof Rye (110% ABV, $31.99). The elevated alcohol content of this three year old really helps when mixed.
The type of vermouth that you use can greatly affect the flavor of the drink. If you want to start at the top then I would recommend Carpano Antica (16.5% ABV, $32.99) which is regarded as the king of sweet vermouths. It is refined and complex with notes of raisins, vanilla and orange marmalade. Dolin Rouge (16% ABV, $15.49) is a more delicate wine, elegant and restrained.
An aperitif wine that I am tasting as I write this is Maurin Quina Le Puy (45% ABV, $39.99). It is a lighter less sweet style of the classic Cherry Heering (24% ABV, $21.99) which would work great in a Manhattan. The addition of almond and quinine makes for an incredible finish. Just recently, Hum Botanical Liqueur (35% ABV, $37.99) was released in Indiana. It is already making quite the stir. The Libertine Bar on East Washington street downtown is doing some amazing things with it. I recently made a Manhattum, which consisted of 3 parts Johnny Drum Private Stock Bourbon (50.5% ABV, $27.99) with 1 part Hum Liqueur and a dash of orange bitters.
Bitters are always a contentious issue especially here at the store. Rick, Vine & Table’s POS Manager favors using Fee Brothers Cherry bitters (while I like to use Fee Brothers West Indian Orange bitters). It can be a very personal decision as to what flavor you go for and believe me there are many choices. Bitters are what really make the drink. It puts the oomph in the cocktail and elevates it from merely a mixed drink to a zesty bright concoction that leaves you hanging for more. A bottle of bitters will last you for ages as all you need is two or three drops per drink.
A Manhattan is not a Manhattan if it is not topped with a cherry, no exceptions. Over the years I have used many types of cherry but the brand that I keep coming back to is Luxardo Maraschino ($19.99). Try them just once and you will agree with me. Each jar contains over 50 ridiculously delicious, all natural whole pitted cherries, candied with Marasca cherry syrup. Pastry chefs in Italy and the world over have been using them for years!
So there you have it, get the ingredients out and get mixing!
Original Wall Street Journal Article The Manhattan Project